NORMAL — As the Illinois State football team continues to brush off the rubble from last Saturday’s 65-38 implosion against Western Illinois at Macomb, the Redbirds extract some comfort from what the final two games of the season could still yield.
“We know if we win the next two games we’re going to have a winning season,” quarterback Matt Brown said Tuesday. “That is definitely a goal of ours.”
The 4-5 Redbirds have lost four of their past five games, but could post a second consecutive 6-5 campaign with wins over Youngstown State (3-6) on Saturday and Eastern Illinois (1-8) on Nov. 13. Both games are 1 p.m. starts at Hancock Stadium.
“I like to win,” said safety Bo Flowers. “Any time you get the chance to win more games than you lose, that’s always the goal.”
ISU coach Brock Spack called a strong finish key to the process of establishing a winning culture.
“We’re trying to instill a winning attitude,” Spack said. “The attitudes of our older players are different. They are good kids, but they have a tendency to drop their jaw a little bit when things aren’t going well. That’s just part of college football. They want to do well, and they want to win. You’ve got to learn to fight back.”
If the Redbirds do finish 6-5, Spack would be the first ISU coach since Edwin Struck in 1945-46 to have winning records in each of their first two seasons.
Defensive woes: The loss to Western Illinois dropped the Redbirds near the bottom of the FCS in several defensive categories.
ISU is 116th of 117 teams in scoring defense at 41.6 points allowed, 112th in total defense (453.3 yards) and 110th in pass defense (255.6).
“We’re basically just trying to go back to fundamentals and correct some of the mistakes we made and try to minimize them,” Flowers said. “Everybody is upbeat. We know we can do it. It’s a matter of getting it done.”
Flowers attributed the 452 yards and six touchdown passes of Western quarterback Matt Barr to “not taking proper angles and putting ourselves in bad predicaments. Those are things we can’t do and things we know will cost us. Unfortunately, when we made those mistakes on Saturday, they ended up being touchdowns.”
Injuries have caused a secondary shortage. Freshmen Marcus Harris and Steve Nelson are out for the season with shoulder injuries. Todd Shorter, another freshman who has started at both safety and cornerback, may miss the Youngstown State game with a leg injury.
And, cornerback E.J. Jones and safeties Flowers, Kelvyn Hemphill and Casey Kociuba are slowed or have been slowed by various ailments.
“That was an area of concern in the offseason, and we thought we addressed it in our recruitment,” said Spack. “We’ve lost some guys to injuries. That’s hit us hard. But that’s part of the sport.”
Fetzer recognized: ISU senior place-kicker Steven Fetzer has been selected among 42 college kickers for their excellence on the field and in the community for the month of October by the Fred Mitchell Award selection committee.
The Mahomet native was one of 13 kickers from the Football Championship Subdivision on the list. He has connected on 12 of 17 field goal attempts and 27 of 29 extra point tries.